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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.

At 100, longtime local educator, N-S columnist Betty Stein recalls a 'charmed life'

Longtime local educator and News-Sentinel columnist Betty Stein turns 100 on Saturday. (Courtesy photo)
Longtime local educator and News-Sentinel columnist Betty Stein turns 100 on Saturday. (Courtesy photo)
This photo shows Betty Stein at age 5. Stein, who was born in Fort Wayne, has lived most of her life here. (Courtesy photo)
This photo shows Betty Stein at age 5. Stein, who was born in Fort Wayne, has lived most of her life here. (Courtesy photo)
This photo shows Betty Stein in her Girl Scouts uniform. (Courtesy photo)
This photo shows Betty Stein in her Girl Scouts uniform. (Courtesy photo)
This photo shows Betty Stein, right, after her graduation from Ohio State University in 1937, where she earned a bachelor's degree in social work. (Courtesy photo)
This photo shows Betty Stein, right, after her graduation from Ohio State University in 1937, where she earned a bachelor's degree in social work. (Courtesy photo)
This photo shows Betty Stein in her 40s, which is when she decided to get a master's degree in English at University of Saint Francis and then became a teacher. (Courtesy photo)
This photo shows Betty Stein in her 40s, which is when she decided to get a master's degree in English at University of Saint Francis and then became a teacher. (Courtesy photo)
Betty Stein gets a hug from Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend after she received the Father Tom Light of Christ Award in March 2014 for her many contributions to education and the community. (News-Sentinel file photo)
Betty Stein gets a hug from Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend after she received the Father Tom Light of Christ Award in March 2014 for her many contributions to education and the community. (News-Sentinel file photo)
Betty Stein has served as master of ceremonies for Fort Wayne Community Schools' middle school speech contest every year since it started 40 years ago. At last year's contest in May, the school district announced it had renamed the winner's traveling trophy the Betty Stein Award in appreciation for all she has done for students and the middle school speech program. (News-Sentinel file photo)
Betty Stein has served as master of ceremonies for Fort Wayne Community Schools' middle school speech contest every year since it started 40 years ago. At last year's contest in May, the school district announced it had renamed the winner's traveling trophy the Betty Stein Award in appreciation for all she has done for students and the middle school speech program. (News-Sentinel file photo)

More Information

Betty turns 100

WHAT: Family, friends and students celebrate longtime educator and News-Sentinel columnist Betty Stein's 100th birthday with an informal community reception.

WHEN: 1-3 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: Congregation Achduth Vesholom, 5200 Old Mill Road
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press

Becoming a teacher was "one of the "most wonderful things" she has done.

Friday, December 09, 2016 12:03 pm
She was born before radio and television came to Fort Wayne. The advances in medicine and technology have been truly astounding. And she's still educating people — something she loves — 50 years after taking her first teaching job. "I've had a charmed life," Betty Stein, who turns 100 on Saturday, said. "Blessed parents taught me the right things.

"Things have just fallen into place," Stein added. "People have been so good to me."

Family, friends and students will help her celebrate her milestone birthday during an informal community reception from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday at Congregation Achduth Vesholom, 5200 Old Mill Road. 

Stein is best known to The News-Sentinel readers as the author of her "By the Way" columns, which run every other Tuesday on the Editorial Page and include musings and quizzes on topics ranging from books and the arts to local history. The Fort Wayne native also writes the Page Turner column, which runs on Saturdays on the Features page and interviews people in the community about what they are reading.

She has been writing for the News-Sentinel since the early 1980s. 

However, Stein is perhaps best known as a longtime educator and community volunteer. 

She began teaching at the former Fairfield Junior High School in the mid-1960s and spent 13 years there. In 1979, she became curriculum coordinator and assistant to the principal at Memorial Park Middle School.

She retired in 1982, but she has continued as a consultant at Memorial Park, where she she still goes in one day a week to work on the school's literary magazine, help students with writing, and arrange for artists and arts groups to present programs at the school.

Stein is the first woman to serve as president of Congregation Achduth Vesholom, the city's Reform Jewish congregation, where she and her family have been active members throughout her life. She also was very active at the Allen County Public Library, serving as a leader of the Friends of the Allen County Public Library group and still as a member of the library's building corporation.

She served for 20 years on the local Alcoholic Beverage Commission and has been active with what is now the Jewish Federation of Fort Wayne.

Stein, still as sharp as ever, said her earliest memories go back to when she was a little girl "being in the front yard playing with my daddy," possibly trying to learn how to ride a child's scooter. They lived in the West Central area at the time, which was a marvelous place to grow up, she recalled.

She and her brother, Samuel, could easily walk the few blocks to Swinney Park to play tennis or go to the swimming pool — pool admission was a nickel. The park had more to do than it does today, and adjacent Trier's Park had a dance hall, dodge-em cars and a small rollercoaster.

They also could walk east on Wayne Street, toward downtown, to go to the Carnegie Library and YWCA, she said. Both seemed to have "100,000" steps to get to their front doors, but the interiors hold great memories.

She took swimming lessons and went swimming at the YWCA, which had the first pool in town. At the library, her parents allowed her to read anything she wanted.

"Going to the library was wonderful," she said, her face lighting up.

Even though her family was Jewish, they joined most of Fort Wayne in going downtown to marvel at the magic of the Christmas window displays at the former Wolf & Dessauer department store.

Radio didn't exist when she was young, nor did movies featuring sound or color. Those inventions gradually came, however. But until local TV stations began broadcasting here in the early 1950s, her family's only visual view of the news came from newspaper photos and the brief newsreel films that played at the end of movies.

Stein went on to graduate early at age 20 from Ohio State University in 1937 with a bachelor's degree in social work. She then went to work in the sportswear department at W & D because people had to be age 21 to take the civil service exam to work for the government.

It was a different time: Men worked, and married women typically stayed home and used their skills in volunteer work and social clubs, Stein said. Even at W & D, men received immediate seating in the tea room "because they worked," while women had to wait in line for available seating.

Racial discrimination and anti-Semitism also existed, both before and after the civil rights movement of the early 1960s. Country clubs in Fort Wayne, for example, formerly had quotas on the number of Jewish people they would accept as members.

"It made me uncomfortable," Stein said of the anti-Semitism. "You never could be sure you'd be welcome."

She married in November 1939, and the following June they moved to Dallas for five years for her husband's job in the custom jewelry business and stayed when he was drafted into World War II service as a medical officer. Stein and their young son, John, returned to Fort Wayne in spring 1945 to care for her father after her mother died.

When her children — John and younger sister Rena — had gotten older, Stein went to University of Saint Francis to work on a master's degree in English. A nun there convinced her to get a teaching certificate along with it.

Right after she completed the degree, a job opened at Fairfield Junior High School. She took it and has loved being an educator ever since.

"It is one of the most wonderful things that could happen to a human being," said Stein, who also treasures the honorary doctorate in human letters that USF bestowed on her in 2014. "Being able to help kids believe in themselves, realize how capable they are, open their eyes."

In the latter case, that especially involves sharing with them her great love of poetry. She also has a passion for music, theater and the visual arts.

Stein has enjoyed seeing her children, grandchildren and students go into the world and take on leadership roles in the community and beyond. 

And she has no plans to slow down or sit around, saying she loves writing her columns and helping at Memorial Park.

"Life is good," she said. "There is a lot to do." 

       

More Information

Betty turns 100

WHAT: Family, friends and students celebrate longtime educator and News-Sentinel columnist Betty Stein's 100th birthday with an informal community reception.

WHEN: 1-3 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: Congregation Achduth Vesholom, 5200 Old Mill Road

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